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Quick Smoke: La Palina Red Label Toro

21 May 2016

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Red Label Toro

As a longtime fan of La Palina, I was looking forward to trying the Red Label, a line introduced in 2015. I knew it was a lighter complement to the fuller-strength Black Label. It wasn’t the lack of strength that made the biggest impression, though. It was the lack of flavor. For the Toro’s full six inches, about the only thing I experienced was an overwhelming hot, dry, grassy rawness. The Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, Ecuadorian binder, and Nicaraguan and Dominican filler blend just didn’t suit my palate. Construction, burn, and draw were fine. Overall, however, I found the Red Label to be more of a red flag.

Verdict = Sell.

George E

photo credit: La Palina

News: Small Players in Cigar Industry Vow to Keep Going

18 May 2016

FDA-cigars-large

Uncertainty. Apprehension. Determination.

These seem to sum up the feelings of some of the smaller players in the cigar world. Small players whose business will be greatly impacted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s new tobacco regulations. In statements both on and off the record, those who create and market boutique cigar expressed both anger and resolve to StogieGuys.com.

“You have to play the hand the best you can with what you have,” said Jeff Haugen, co-owner of Crux Cigars. “We’re going to have to adapt.”

While some were reluctant to openly discuss the potential impact or their plans, others were blunt.

“It’s a mess,” said Sandra Cobas, owner of the highly regarded cigar manufacturer El Titan de Bronze, located in Miami’s Little Havana since 1997. Cobas is confident she’ll be able to remain in business, but “it won’t be the same.”

Particularly troubling for her is the Feb. 15, 2007, grandfather date on which cigars had to be on the market to qualify for an exemption from regulation. While El Titan’s four lines should qualify, many of the smokes she produces for other brands will not. And that means her current level of eight to twelve employees will almost certainly shrink. “These are working people,” she said. “It’s very upsetting. Very upsetting.”

The economic impact will be widespread, she added, ticking off those impacted, from tobacco growers to box makers, cigar band lithographers to glue manufacturers.

“How about in Estelí? How about in the Dominican?” where cigar-making has boomed in recent years, she said. “They think they’ve got an immigration problem now? They don’t know what they’ll have.”

Mel Shah realizes his MBombay cigars will also face the full thrust of the regulations because they came to market only a couple years ago. Just what the FDA’s approval process will be, or how much it will cost, however, remains uncertain.

“Everything that we hear right now… it’s all speculation,” said Shah. “They’re going to charge this, they’re not going to charge this. The whole nine yards. There is nothing… in black and white as to how much it’s going to cost us. Once we have that, then it will be a more definitive strategy.”

Shah’s position as owner of both a cigar brand and a cigar shop (Fame Wine & Cigar Lounge in Palm Springs, California) provides a well-rounded perspective.

As a measure of what lies ahead, he noted that about 70 percent of the cigars on retailers’ shelves these days were introduced after 2007.

The FDA regulations, scheduled to go into effect this summer, offer a small window for cigars that aren’t grandfathered. Those on the market before Aug. 8 can remain on sale until Aug. 8, 2018, before having to apply for approval.

That’s led to conjecture that brand owners will rush cigars to market in order to take advantage. But Haugen, and others, said that’s not their plan.

“We’re certainly not going to knee-jerk any reactions of which way we’re going to move,” Haugen said, noting that all Crux lines are post-2007. “I’m not interested in just jamming a bunch of brands out there to get something going.”

One point of agreement was that, while it’s too soon to know the full impact, they will survive.

Most, in fact, echoed the sentiment of Ernesto Perez Carrillo in his response to the FDA: “We are here to stay.”

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Book Review: The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure

9 May 2016

Cigar - Cover

Spectacular.

That is the only word I can think of to adequately describe this large-format, colorful book that explores every imaginable facet of cigars.

The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure is a book that could come only from someone who loves cigars, or, in this case, two people who love cigars. Morten Ehrhorn (writer) and Justin Hummerston (photographer) spent five years traveling the world to explore cigars, tobacco, and those who love them. Interestingly, the pair is based in Denmark, known in the tobacco world far more for its relationship to pipes than to cigars.

Cigar - 7

But you’d have a difficult time finding a book with more or better cigar information. Far too many coffee-table books of all kinds are heavy on photographs and light on written material; far too many cigar books offer little more than a rehash of accepted wisdom and twice-told tales. Not so with The Cigar.

Cigar - 4

The book is truly an exhaustive and extensive presentation. Sure, we’re all familiar with photos of fields in Pinar del Río, say, but how about a look at tobacco curing houses in Indonesia? In another spot, you’ll find six pages devoted to soil. Then there’s a meticulous exploration of the effects of nicotine on the brain, not to mention all the interesting tidbits throughout. Did you know, for example, that Cuban cigars are packaged in the box with the darker wrappers on the left side?

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In fact, I can’t think of any aspect of cigars that Enrhorn and Hummerston missed. The book is, literally, 312 pages of fascination.

For a cigar lover, simply opening the book is to be captivated, drawn in, and captured.

The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure is published by the award-winning Copenhagen firm Forlaget Enrhorn Hummerston and can be purchased on Amazon, as well as at online retailer Cigars International.

Cigar - 5

You’ll also have a chance to win the review copy we received from the publisher in the coming weeks. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for details on that and other giveaways.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Heritage 1492 Nicaragua Toro

1 May 2016

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Heritage 1492

This cigar opens with a blast of jalapeño pepper before settling down with some sweetness, earth, and rich tobacco. Rolled by Oliva for GMD Group (which supplied my samples), the double-banded Toro (6 x 50) is sharply box-pressed and exquisitely constructed. It burns perfectly, produces lots of smoke, and has an excellent draw. The wrapper is Ecuadorian Habano with Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. One drawback is the price, which lists at $14, though I’ve seen it advertised online for as low as $9. If you’re a fan of Nicaraguan tobacco, it’s one to try.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Diamond Crown Julius Caeser Pyramid

30 Apr 2016

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

JC

Released to celebrate J.C. Newman’s founder, this Diamond Crown extension is a medium-strength, tasty cigar. Few details are released—the smooth, oily wrapper is labeled Ecuadorian Havana-seed and the other tobaccos called simply Central American. My guess—based on spices reminiscent of some Opus smokes—is a high proportion of Dominican filler. Like all Diamond Crowns, the Julius Caeser carries a high price tag. The Pyramid (6.5 x 52) retails between $16 and $20. I thoroughly enjoyed it with one caveat: The draw was a bit constricted and smoke production a little limited. But I would say this is one to consider when you want a celebratory stick.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Hoyo by Hoyo de Monterrey Robusto

27 Apr 2016

Long a General Cigar staple, Hoyo de Monterrey is the latest offering to receive a makeover. This time, the overhaul comes via a new line inspired by an earlier limited edition. The cigar even sports a different, shorter name—simply Hoyo—and, as you’d expect, modern bands, boxes, and promotion.

HoyoInterestingly, the new Hoyo was touted in a press release by General’s vice president of marketing, Alan Willner, rather than a cigar blender.

Hoyo is being offered to tobacconists in four sizes: Rothschild (4.5 x 50), Robusto (5 x 54), Toro (6 x 50), and Gigante (6 x 60). For this review, General provided me with a five-pack of the Robustos, which carry an individual MSRP of $6.59.

The tobaccos used in Hoyo reflect the blend from last year’s Hoyo Edición de Cumpleaños 150 limited edition that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the original Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey.

That cigar features a proprietary wrapper leaf called Estelí Habano Shade, which has been fermented longer and applied to the new Hoyo. It is thick and oily with little pre-light aroma. Under an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder is a filler mix of Pennsylvania ligero along with Nicaraguan tobacco from Estelí and Ometepe.

I found excellent construction, draw, and burn in each of the samples. Smoke production was top-flight. The cigars are densely packed, and a slow burn makes the fat Robusto last longer than many larger cigars.

For me, there’s often a fine line between peppery and harsh. Sometimes it shows up in a back-of-the-throat bite, sometimes in a lingering, coarse finish. With the Hoyo Robusto, it seems to show up in both, especially during the first inch or so.

The harshness backs down somewhat in the second half, with burned coffee and tobacco sweetness coming to the fore. Overall, though, there isn’t much development throughout the five-inch smoke.

While it’s nice to see a major cigar maker reexamine long-time brands, it can sometimes feel like they’re trying too hard to emulate their boutique competitors. With Hoyo, General has produced a perfectly acceptable cigar, but one that seems a bit heavier on the sizzle than on the steak.

On the other hand, with its reasonable price and excellent combustion properties that are characteristic of General Cigar, I’d recommend giving it a try. As for rating, I give the Hoyo Robusto three stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Davidoff Nicaragua Short Corona

18 Apr 2016

The spicy start from this cigar comes quicker and stronger than other vitolas I’ve smoked in this line. Of course, when a cigar is only 3.75 inches, starting fast is nearly a requirement.

Davidoff Nicaragua (1)That wasn’t the only difference that struck me as I smoked through a five-pack of Davidoff Nicaragua Short Coronas I’d bought for about $50 last summer. There was less change throughout—again, not unexpected. In the Robusto, for example, I found the spice to lower in intensity at about the halfway point, especially as coffee became more prominent. Not so here; spice continued pretty much as it began, with the coffee maintaining a moderate level.

Other flavors I noticed were chocolate, wood, and the earthy, musty note that seems to be a part of Davidoff’s DNA. The Short Corona finish was velvet smooth, another common Davidoff characteristic.

I drank coffee while smoking a couple, and it was an excellent pairing.

For such a small smoke (the ring gauge is 46), the draw was perfect, as was the burn throughout. Smoke production rivaled that of a much larger stick.

These Nicaraguan puros were introduced by Davidoff in 2013. Originally released in three vitolas, there are now six, including two box-pressed versions and a Diadima.

The wrapper is a ten-year-old Havana-seed rosado, the binder from Jalapa, and the filler a mixture of leaves from Nicaragua’s tobacco growing regions of Estelí, Condega, and Ometepe. Despite the tobacco composition, the cigars are rolled at Davidoff’s Dominican factory.

While a bit late to the Nicaragua tobacco fest, Davidoff knew what to do when it arrived. Our earlier reviews of the Robusto and the Toro each earned four stogies.

When the Nicaragua line was announced, Davidoff said it was part of the company’s goal of bringing “delightful experiences” to cigar smokers. I believe they did just that with the Short Corona, and I, too, give this smoke four stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys